Even though my weekend was mostly in Benton, I nevertheless stopped at the Madisonville Applebees (my Neighborhood Bar and Grill) with the Kentucky Sports Radio crew to watch the Kentucky-UNC game. It was on odd game….sort of bizarre in its flow but not really in its result. Here are my five thoughts on the game, which are completely free of references to Billy Packer…..only because the sound was off….
(1) The most obvious quality of the game to even the most casual of observers was that there is a huge talent discrepancy between the UNC roster and that of Kentucky. Without going into why that is the case, more than any other game this season, there was a distinct look in this game that for Kentucky to win, they would have to pull a talent upset….an unfamiliar site for a UK team. Dave Telep said on Saturday that UNC’s last recruiting class is one of the best of the last 25 years, and his is correct. The Heels go 10 deep and are so good that a guy you dont even pay attention to, like Rayshawn Terry, can burn you for 25 points and take away your chance to win. This is an example of a game where UK’s poor senior and sophomore classes caught up to the Cats.
(2) Bizarrely for a team that lost by 12, it is the case that Kentucky controlled the tempo and pace of the game. UK knew that to have any shot, they had to stop UNC’s penetration and cut down on its fast break. With a talent discrepancy, UK had to make the Heels beat them patiently…..and UK did just that. Tyler Hansborough was basically shut down, and even though Brandan Wright had a good string, the Cats lost due to UNC hitting from outside. Effectively, UK instituted the Gonzaga game plan. Bang down low and make UNC hit shots…..however unlike with Gonzaga, UNC did hit shots and UK most certainly did not. When UNC hits threes like they did today, it is tough to beat them…..but if you had told me that UK would basically own the paint, I would have said you were lying…..but the Cats did just that.
(3) UK’s much maligned players exhibted why they are much maligned. Sheray Thomas was in a word…..dreadful, exhibiting almost no ability to get out on the three point shooters…..a must to have success in the otherwise effective zone that Kentucky was playing. Offensively he was unable to add anything and he rebounded almost never. Similarly my man Woo, in his limited minutes, showed why this is not a game in which he can play, making two turnovers and being consistently out-rebounded. And most importantly, Joe Crawford played the “lower my head and bull into people game”, creating seven turnovers and wasting opportunities to give Randolph Morris a day to remember. Bobby Perry, while showing some life on offense, found himself consistently in the wrong place throughout the game and showcasing what has been his consistent weakness this year….decision-making.
(4) How about Randolph Morris? The big guy has come focused and ready to dominate this season…..and he did that, making Tyler Hansborough look like a little boy during the game. Randolph went 12-13 from the field and held Tyler to five points……play like that all year and the NBA will come calling at the end of the season. I love watching the big guy when he plays like today…..he silently crushes people and shows why he was so highly touted coming out of high school.
(5) This was not a game that Kentucky was going to win. We simply arent good enough. The Cats were always in the game, but you never had a feeling that Kentucky could win it. Normally when down eight or ten, there is a belief that a couple of threes here and there and your team can win…..but not against UNC. The game played out like two teams playing equally good (or bad depending on your perspective), but one just happens to be better. Had Kentucky been hot from the outside, they could have won. Had UNC been at all effective inside, they would have blown us out. The margin likely represented the true discrepency between the two teams…..something that doesnt always happen in basketball. Play this game in March, it is closer…..but UNC is better and more talented….plain and simple.
Finally, there is a good chance that if Vegas were to make the line today, UK would be favored in their next 14 games. Read that sentence again. With the possible exception of the road game at UL, the Cats may be the favorite for the next month and a half. I do not think they will win all of them and be 18-3…..(I think they lose to Louisville and drop one SEC road game)…..but after the Chatanooga game come two games (IU and UL) that will tell the tale of the season. Win both, and UK is set up for a solid run…..lose both, and it gets ugly. Whether anyone agrees with it or not, the fact remains that the future of this season, and maybe even the UK program under Tubby Smith, may be defined in the coming two weeks…..sit back, should be interesting.